Monogram Box Scale B-25H
|$.98 in 1960|
The B-25J was the final wartime version of North American Aviation’s venerably versatile Mitchell medium bomber, which in its numerous incarnations served the United States Army Air Force in virtually every combat theater during WWII. Reverting back to its roots as a conventional strike aircraft from the previous B-25H’s gunship guise, the J model nonetheless retained considerable forward firepower through the continued use of external package guns and adding a second fixed .50 caliber machinegun to the standard bombsight-equipped glass nose. Aircrew numbered six in this variant with the reintroduced bombardier assuming a secondary MOS as the ship’s navigator.
The bulk of these aircraft served with the 15th AF in Italy and with most medium bomber groups deployed in the CBI and SWPA theaters during the final year and a half of the war. Midway through the B-25J’s production run, field commanders again requested a gunship version for use primarily against Japanese forces tenaciously fighting a valiant-but-futile holding action in China and the western Pacific islands. North American’s engineers responded by designing a new solid nose equipped with eight .50 caliber weapons and 400 rounds per gun. Many B-25Js were built with this new armored snout while others were retrofitted in the field, using factory-supplied kits. These replacement nose kits were sometimes used with earlier marque Mitchells as well.
With demand for the re-introduced gunship outstripping supply, armorers in the 345th Bomb Group (the “Air Apaches”) continued to build field-expedient strafers using the standard glass-nosed B-25J. A second pair of weapons were installed on the portside of the nose, mirroring the factory’s two-gun arrangement on the right side. Structural enhancements to the canopy framework permitted a fifth .50 caliber to be mounted through the familiar ball socket mount in a fixed position and bore-sighted with the other four machineguns. The bombardier, of necessity, was orphaned and most of these ships so altered had their plexiglas noses over-painted with some of the gaudiest artwork ever carried by a warplane.
Unlike its stablemate the Martin Marauder, B-25Js continued to serve in the post-war era as trainers, squadron hacks, and specialized electronic test mules. Many of these aircraft found their way into foreign military service as well, most notably in Central and South American, and in Asia. Some fifteen years after the end of WWII the USAF finally struck its last B-25J from the inventory, but the utility of the design and its forgivable handling ensured a new career combating forest fires as a borate bomber. Many low-time airframes were purchased by civilians for use as executive transports before the advent of turbine-powered business jets. Today, most surviving aircraft have been restored to their original wartime military configuration and are displayed and flown at airshows as a tribute to the airmen of a gone-but-not-forgotten era.
Monogram’s diminutive B-25H kit contains 34 parts molded in silver-gray styrene, seven clear pieces, decals for a single aircraft, and a small instruction sheet with a recommended assembly procedure, generic painting information and a brief history of the prototype.
First released in 1955, this model—together with Monogram’s box-scale companion B-26B Invader—was the company’s first all-plastic scale aircraft model kit. Typical of the era, the surface detail consists of grapefruit-sized rivets, raised panel lines, and molded indicators to aid in proper decal placement.
The parts are engineered to assemble conventionally though the fit of most components will require modest to massive amounts of filler to achieve a modicum of acceptable appearance. Overall shape, lines, and proportions are generally correct, conforming to a measured scale of 1:69.5.
The landing gear consists of a pair of “silver quarters” for the main wheels rolling on individual struts and a “silver nickel” nose wheel molded to a strut attached to the left fuselage half. The instruction sheet would have the modeler install the main wheels by flairing the strut axles with a heated knife (!).
Interior detail is comprised solely of two full figures for the cockpit and two half figures for the dorsal and tail turret positions. A boarding ladder is furnished as a prop to prevent the assembled model from becoming a tail-dragger, while the propellers are adequately detailed for the scale.
Six 5” HVAR rockets are included as underwing ordnance though the integrally-molded pylons are incorrect for a B-25. The turret machineguns are given short shrift, being nothing more than barrels to be inserted into designated slots. The forward guns are molded to the nose cap, along with a fair rendition of the 75mm cannon while the waist guns have been omitted.
The external cockpit armor is correctly depicted while the package guns are molded to the fuselage sides. Modeling a Mitchell without them will require careful removal and filling the resultant holes. The ailerons are too wide in span, requiring them to be narrowed from the wingtip end by one rib.
The transparencies are properly and prominently framed on the outside, simplifying masking prior to painting. However, the inside surfaces are marred by lumps, bumps, and other errata, necessitating a tedious sanding and re-polishing operation to restore their clarity and luster.
Decals are furnished for one aircraft—specifically 43-4892, a NMF Mitchell carrying the inscription “SH-BOOM” under both sides of the cockpit canopy. The serial number reveals this ship to be one of 400 B-25H-10s delivered from North American’s Burbank facility in southern California.
Curiously, the national insignia is of the post-1947 tri-color variety, somewhat unusual since most surviving B-25Hs were quickly stricken from the USAF inventory after the end of the Second World War. In any case, the decals themselves are thick and matte-finished and replacement is recommended. (For those of you wanting to see what's in the box, please visit this preview. Ed)
Prior to putting glue to styrene I mocked up the model with masking tape to assess the corrections and additions necessary to bring this project as close to contemporary standards as practicable. After determining the scale using a ruler, calculator, and some high school algebra (thank you, Mr. Schieppe!), I compared the major components and details with my references.
Basic construction began with the wing. After opening up the oil cooler intakes on the leading edges I drilled out the exhaust outlets on the wing tops. A baffle was installed in each wing to prevent see-through then I cemented the halves together. The characteristic wingtip washout was nowhere to be found so I used a flat file to grind away the undersides of the tips, then I fashioned position lights from colored Lexan and glued them to the ends.
Slots for the underwing HVAR rockets were filled and sanded flush since only a few late production aircraft were so equipped. During my preliminary inspection I discovered that the ailerons were too wide, with the offending surplus noted at the wingtip end. Some filling and sanding followed by rescribing the outboard hinge lines corrected this error. The landing lights were attached then I drilled three dimples under the right wing for later installation of some red, green, and amber MV lenses to represent the combat ID lights.
Next up were the nacelles. After assembling the halves I test-fitted each to the wings and found a major problem. The nacelle-to-wing fit as engineered produced a noticeable inboard cant to the carburetor scoops. They’re supposed to be parallel to the outer wing panels but they tilted inward, nearly level with the gulled inboard portions.
Thinking “outside the box”, I reversed the nacelles from wing to wing. The fit, while not ideal, was much closer to the prototype. This swap required removal of the nacelles’ molded-on gear doors and filling the holes. Lead shot ballast was glued into each assembly forward of the main gear locations while some short bits of #27 hypodermic needle were used to replicate the dual fuel vents at the rear of each nacelle. After mating the units to the wings, I filled the ever-present gaps with CA and sanded the fillets smooth.
The cowl flaps were molded to the nacelle fronts so I filed and sanded those away, intending to build new ones. Likewise, I chiseled out the carburetor scoops with an X-acto knife to give them some depth and detail. New cowl flaps were re-installed using pieces sectioned from a pair of Airfix P-61 cowlings. I thinned the trailing edges to scale thickness then scored each flap for additional definition.
The cowlings were corrected by removing the underscale and poorly molded Clayton ‘S’ stacks and replacing them with new ones, scratch-built using the slat portion of a troop seat from Monogram’s M-34 deuce-and-a-half Army truck for stock. Ayup……all twenty-eight of ‘em! Finally, I glued 5/16” aluminum tubing into each engine front to serve as propeller bearings. The remaining space inside the cowlings was filled with lead shot then I glued the cowlings in place.
The empennage was next and after cleaning up the parts and filling all the numerous dimples and mold release plugs I rescribed new panel lines, installed position lights in each fin, then assembled the pieces. Much filling and sanding here as well……
At this point I taped the fuselage together again along with the completed components to check and if necessary adjust my C/G calculations. The wings, heavy with ballast, became problematical so I added a ¾-span spar through the bomb bay using rectangular brass channel. While conducting some stress trials with the mock-up on a short ‘test flight’ I hit upon the idea of converting the model from a B-25H to a strafer ‘J’ gunship. Not only would this modification give me more interior volume into which I could pack additional counterweight, but it would also open up a number of outrageous color scheme possibilities. Hmm……
While contemplating this conversion I rescribed the wings, nacelles, and cowlings then cut new holes for the main landing gear and scratch-built a set of struts, using various sizes of aluminum tubing and steel wire. I discarded the kit wheels and began a search for suitable replacements. For the main gear units I used those from the Tamiya Me-262 (yeah yeah, I know……blasphemy!) while a pair of spoked mainwheels from Airfix’s F-15 became the new nosewheel. The latter I bisected radially, then mated the two spoked halves together. A hand-cut diamond tread pattern completed this operation.
Meanwhile, I tacked the fuselage together with a couple of drops of CA then cruised through my spares box to find something out of which I could fashion a new nose. I finally decided to try re-sectioning a pair of Monogram P-61 radomes together (the short ones) into a B-25J profile. The results were promising and I tacked this to the front of the fuselage for further tweaking with file and sandpaper. Thankfully the wall thickness of these parts was such that it easily survived the brutal onslaught.
Guns were installed in the new nose using #27 hypo needles. To help me visualize how the completed nose would appear, I sprayed the ‘metal’ portion with flat white, leaving the ‘glazed’ areas in the black that the P-61 radomes were molded in. After a final fine-tuning of the shape with sandpaper I popped the new nose loose and filled the interior with more lead shot. Mocking up the model yet again demonstrated an acceptable C/G for proper stance on its landing gear so I disassembled it, popped the fuselage halves apart, then started on the interior.
The forward package guns are molded integral with the fuselage, to include the barrels. Those I cut away and replaced with hypo tubing, then I drilled out the shell ejection ports in the fairings. On the inside I covered the visible fairing depressions with sheet styrene, using CA to fill small gaps. When the glue had dried I sanded the inner surfaces smooth to eliminate tooling marks and other effluvia.
Everything inside was scratch-built using Evergreen sheet, steel wire, sheet aluminum, and bits from my spares box. Detailing in the waist and tail-gunner’s positions was held to an absolute minimum to preserve the precarious C/G. All of the clear parts required sanding and polishing on the inner surfaces to remove numerous unsightly lumps. After painting the interior I applied an instrument panel decal in the cockpit, installed the various components into the left side of the fuselage, then glued both halves together.
The tail guns were installed from the outside, using a set from Monogram’s Snap-Tite B-26 Marauder. I cut the barrels off and replaced them with #27 needles then line-bored a hole through the molded mount and both sides of the rear fuselage. After enlarging the opening at the rear of the turret, I slid the guns into position then used a piece of steel wire inserted through the drilled holes as a retainer to secure them inside. A canvas boot was fabricated from scrap styrene with a pair of holes drilled coincident to the center-to-center dimension of the gun spacing, then I slid this piece over the muzzles and glued it in position. A short piece of 1/16” square brass channel was attached vertically on the bottom of the turret to serve as the shell and link ejection chute (a detail overlooked and omitted in every B-25H and –J kit that I have examined).
The dorsal turret interior was scratch-built and detailed, again with spares box bits and gun breeches from the Snap-Tite Marauder. Hypo needles replaced the plastic barrels and after gluing the clear blister to the turret I used Elmer’s white glue to simulate the gun travel slot fillers. I ignored the waist guns since I learned that late in the war, many Mitchell units in the CBI and SWPA theaters deleted them as a weight reduction measure.
After sanding away three gazillion rivets the nose was reattached and I rescribed the fuselage surface details. The tire bulge on the large nose gear door was added, using an oval of pre-shaped sheet styrene while the armored cans to the rear of the dorsal turret were duplicated with a pair of modified slat actuator fairings from Italeri’s F-4G Wild Weasel. These cans are designed to prevent inadvertent fire from striking the tail-gunner. Likewise, they are spaced to forestall a burst accidentally hitting the vertical fins if the turret is traversed off-center within the rear quadrants of the aircraft. An external oblique strike camera fairing was installed aft of the rear escape hatch since this was a prototypical modification performed in the field. The wings were slid into position over their brass channel spar and cemented then I added the empennage. After attaching the landing gear struts I fabricated new gear doors and glued them on as well.
At this point it was time to decide on an antenna configuration (there are several and they differ between both production blocks and combat theaters). The ADF loop under the cockpit is a constant for all B-25H and –J aircraft—I substituted the kit piece for a better looking fairing from the Airfix B-25. The marker beacon array adjacent to the nosewheel is common to all versions. This I replicated using hypo needles as masts and threading monofilament line through and between them,
A fixed mast flanking the forward escape hatch was constructed from sheet brass (on MTO-based aircraft this antenna is usually located on top of the fuselage, aft of the waist windows). An IFF dipole, located ventrally and aft of the bomb bay was installed, using .013” unwound silver-nickel guitar string. The HF antenna wire was the subject of much consternation and discussion with my Dad (a former B-25 armorer-gunner). Some aircraft had a single element while other had two. The anchor points varied as well—some wires run from aft of the cockpit windows to the vertical fin (or fins in the case of a dual-element “sloping V” arrangement) while others terminate on the top(s) of the horizontal stabilizer.
Ultimately I chose the full “sloping V” system, running monofilament line from scratch-built lead-in/insulators behind the cockpit on each side to the tailplane. Finally I added a scratch-built trailing antenna tube below the left waist window, constructed from a hypo needle and a common straight pin (all wartime B-25s have this device though its position may vary).
I cut the prop shafts off, drilled out the back side of each hub, and glued in pieces of 3/32” aluminum tubing as new propeller shafts. After carefully blowing the sanding dust out of the fuselage using air from my compressor I attached the cockpit canopy and tail-gunner’s glass with white glue then moved the model into the paint shop.
CAMOUFLAGE & MARKINGS
I rely heavily on the “Sinatra” method when it comes to choosing camo colors (my way) and frankly I’ve never been happy with any of the commercially available hobby paints save for the now long-OOP Repli-Color line. Coupled with that, to my eye the OD/NG shades used on the B-25 seem to vary considerably depending on the version and where it was built.
Early -A, -B, -C, and -G marques assembled at Inglewood appear to have been painted in a somewhat browner olive drab of medium intensity while the Kansas City-built -Ds always seemed a little lighter and tending toward the green, especially apparent when the Shade 42 medium green splotches were applied to the wing and empennage. B-25Hs and -Js, from California and Kansas respectively, looked very dark, with the OD again leaning toward the brown.
After examining several dozen of my Dad’s vintage color transparencies I mixed my own blend of olive drab based on these observations. I started with a bottle of nazzie ‘dunkelscheissen’, Luftwaffe Braunviolet bought by mistake when the hapless ‘Y-bother generation’ slacker at the hobby shop carelessly misplaced the bottle in the incorrect slot of the Modelmaster display rack. Next I dribbled in some insignia red to create the desired brownish cast. Finally, I added some FS 34086 Green Drab to darken the color.
After spraying a test swatch the new color appeared to be a dead ringer both for the ships my Dad photographed in Burma and the Olive Green that Testors used to market as a generic gloss color in the small square bottles about 30 years ago. A pity they don’t sell that shade anymore…… The neutral gray was a custom mix as well, much darker than what is customarily thought of as ‘correct’, slightly darker than FS 36118 Gunship Gray in fact. A test spray on the swatch with the OD demonstrated compatibility between the colors and I was off to the races……
To represent the metal ribbing on the ‘plexiglas’ area of the nose I simulated the framing using 1-millimeter strips of white decal material, hoping the raised relief would suggest a hint of the differing surfaces between the individual panes of Perspex under a coat of paint. I initially tried Bare Metal Foil but I couldn’t make the strips negotiate the compound curves. The decal strips, on the other hand, behaved beautifully after gingerly applying some Champ decal setting solution. This stuff is thermonuclear when compared to conventional MicroSol or Solvaset and, like Brylcreem, a leetle dab’ll do ya……
The canopies, lights, and cowling openings were masked off and the camo colors applied, using the tightest spray pattern my Paasche H could muster. Removing the masks, I brush-painted the engines and inner surfaces of the gear doors. Lacquer thinner and a small brush were used to remove overspray from the aluminum gear struts then I painted and installed the wheels.
Nut-crackin’ time……deciding on the markings. I’d always liked the bat faces of the 499th Bomb Squadron, 345th Bomb Group—the notorious “Air Apaches”. No decals exist for this scheme save for an old and mostly incorrect MicroScale sheet so I chose a new tack—combining an airbrushed, stencil-created design with custom-cut decals and judicious hand-painting for the smaller details.
I began by Xeroxing the stencil provided in the 1:48th scale Accurate Miniatures “Dirty Dora” B-25C/D kit and reducing the image to 67%. After some fine-tuning to account for minor differences between the artwork used on the -D and the later B-25J, I traced the corrected pattern onto low-tack masking tape and applied it to the nose. The cowl rings were masked off as well, then I shot some Testors gloss medium blue (in the square bottles that Wal-Mart still stocks) onto all three areas. The tape was carefully removed, with the results predictably acceptable.
White decal strips were used to outline the bat face and create the bat’s ‘wing crease’ details. Similarly I used a red stripe to develop and outline the ‘mouth’, then brush-painted the inside with insignia red. The teeth were applied individually using decal bits from a shark-mouth included on an old MicroScale A-7D sheet.
The ‘eyes’ were a layered exercise, starting with the eyebrows. Next I cut some white ovals for the cornea outlines. When these had dried, black ovals were overlaid as pupils. The red irises were added after closely examining the available color photographs. Finally I cut some ‘ears’ and applied them, using white strips and black triangles to suggest shadows and depth.
Originally I had intended to recreate “My Duchess” as depicted on the cover of Squadron-Signal’s B-25 Walkaround but I could not locate lettering in the proper size, color, and font. As an alternate I chose “Pretty Pat” from the color plates featured in Warpaths Across The Pacific which had the same blue bat face and cowl rings and for which I had ample lettering of the correct color, albeit slightly undersized.
After affixing the ship’s name I trimmed the cowl rings with 1-millimeter white strips then moved aft to the fins. The ‘type 1’ Air Apache insignias from the recently released Albatross sheet were applied, while the relocated and reduced-size serial numbers came from an old MicroScale sheet. Larger white MicroScale numbers were also used as the ‘last three’ at the tops of the fins. The aircraft data block came from a Don Fenton Liberator sheet though I changed the nomenclature by substituting a tiny ‘5’ for the ‘4’ in “B-24J”. An admittedly miniscule detail but hey—I know it’s there……
The remaining items came from Eli Raphael’s most excellent “Dragons And Tigers And Girls……Oh My!” excepting the propeller blade decals. The Hamilton-Standard logos were found on an Aeromaster Invader release while the data stenciling came from a 27-year old MicroScale Black Widow sheet. Hard to believe these last were still serviceable!
Completing the propellers also marked the end of an era—in 1979 I mixed up a special blend of Pactra enamels to use on propeller blade tips. I walked right out on the Tipton Army Airfield tarmac at Ft. Meade (you could do that in those days) and matched the color to the blade tips of a transient C-7A Caribou. The yellow sprayed on these B-25 props was the last of that exceptional paint. I shall surely miss it……
After misting several medium layers of Testors Dullcote over the model I ran a wash into the control surface hinge lines and the reveals around the bomb bay, escape hatches, and landing gear doors. A final heavy spray of Dullcote sealed the wash then I used Elmer’s white glue to attach the red, green, and amber MV lenses to the bottom of the starboard wing in the previously drilled dimples. Spinning the props into the engines completed the model—now where’s that damn take-off check-list?
1955……ah yes, what an era. My folks “liked Ike”, ‘rebel without a cause’ James Dean had not yet rendezvoused with eternity in his Porsche 356 Speedster near Paso Robles, California, and the television airwaves were filled with the likes of “Terry And The Pirates”, “Navy Log”, and later “Steve Canyon”. The United States had yet to follow the French paradigm for disaster in Southeast Asia, Elvis “entered the building”, and Chevrolet had just introduced a rip-roarin’ overhead-valve V-8. Ah yes, what an era……
When this kit hit the store shelves in 1955, it made quite an impact among kids starved for models constructed of the new space-age polystyrene. More releases would follow, both from Monogram in Morton Grove, Illinois and other fledgling companies like Revell in Venice, California and Aurora in West Hempstead, New York. These companies boldly gambled and fortuitously rolled a ‘seven’, spawning a hobby with worldwide appeal that cut across virtually every demographic line.
Nearly fifty years after the fact, Monogram’s B-25H still has competitively pleasing lines and an accurate overall shape, its oddball scale notwithstanding. Despite the model’s obvious shortcomings when compared with newer releases, this kit builds into a sturdy and robust miniature—an ideal choice for youngsters transitioning from Snap-Tites to more sophisticated glue-together projects. Further, an experienced modeler with a modest level of scratch-building skills may find the challenge of creating a passable replica from one of these fossils most rewarding.
Hasegawa’s pending release of a new-tool 1:72nd scale B-25J (with an ‘H’ doubtless to follow) promises state-of-the-art detail, fit, and finish which will surely be popular among the shake-and-bake crowd. However, at nearly fifty yankee dollars apiece for full retail, I am certain the cost will place it well beyond the modest means of a zit-popper with a paper route.
This particular kit has a special personal significance. It was the first Monogram model I ever built, as the PX at McClellan Field only seemed to stock Revell products. I received one of these kits at our Cub Scout pack’s annual Christmas gift exchange in 1960, right before my Dad got transferred to Japan. I recall as we drove home from the meeting being thankful that Dad’s Chrysler Saratoga had a Forrestal-sized back seat because by the time we pulled into our driveway I had the aft crew module’s accommodations covered with silver styrene parts.
The next evening Dad and I put it together as he identified various details on the model and their correlation to the real B-25. Paint was an undreamed of luxury back then but my Mom produced a pair of Marks-A-Lot ink pens in red and black, which I used in prodigious fashion to color the wheels, props, and guns. With bright red cowl rings and wingtips it was easily the coolest ship on the block, or at least until Eddie High stole a spray can of silver Krylon from his dad’s garage and painted up his Aurora B-29.
I must’ve “flown” a thousand sorties with that B-25, furiously pedaling my bike one-handed and mesmerized by the spinning props. Sadly, that Mitchell was “lost in combat” when I rode into the side of a neighbor’s ’57 Ford Fairlane as he motored up our street. When the stars cleared I watched as my Dad greased the owner’s palm to atone for the damaged fender. Likewise, the lump on my head would mend and a visit to a bicycle repair shop would put my Huffy back on the road. But my beloved Mitchell was a total write-off.
“Dad……can I get an advance on next week’s allowance?”
Warpath Across The Pacific – Lawrence J. Hickey, International Research Corp.
B-25 Mitchell: The Magnificent Medium – N.L. Avery, Phalanx Publishing Co.
Walkaround: B-25 Mitchell – Lou Drendel, Squadron-Signal Publications
B-25 Mitchell In Action – Ernest R. McDowell, Squadron-Signal Publications
Famous Airplanes Of The World No. 51: B-25 Mitchell – Bunrin-Do Co, LTD
B-25 Mitchell: In Detail – Bert Kinzey, Squadron-Signal Publications
Air Force Colors: Vol. 3 – Dana Bell, Squadron-Signal Publications
North American B-25 – J.V Mizrahi et al, Challenge Publications
Air Classics: Vol. 14, No. 8 – Ed Schnepf et al, Challenge Publications
Wings: Vol. 23, No. 4 – Joseph V. Mizrahi et al, Sentry Books, Inc.
Review kit provided by David O. Garcia (gracias grande para usted, vato!).
Thanks to Roy Long for the loan of his “Warpaths Across The Pacific”, to Al Superczynski for the vintage box-top scan, and to Scott Van Aken and Scott Murphy for their continued support and encouragement.
Special debt of gratitude to Eli Raphael of Albatross Decals for his inspiration.
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